'Tis the season to be ANGRY
News of a bloody brawl at a school nativity play comes as no surprise to John Walsh. It's all part of the new Christmas spirit, he explains: pushy, stressed out and red in tooth and claw
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Friday 09 December 2011
The finger-biting detail is certainly bizarre (didn't you love The Sun's suggestion of a carol to accompany it: "No Thumb, All Ye Faithful"?) but frankly, it's surprising that fights don't break out more often at school Nativity plays. They're not occasions of innocent celebration and childish joy: they're a war zone of suppressed emotion.
Picture the scene. In the primary school hall, the walls have been daubed with crayoned shepherds, swarthy kings and guiding stars. Backstage, the harassed Reception-class teachers try to marshal 20 tinies dressed as tree baubles, tinsel fairies and cuddly teddies into some order, while the main dramatis personae of Holy Family, Innkeeper, Herod and local agriculturals are fighting first-night nerves.
In the auditorium the atmosphere is even tighter. Parent Z arrived at the Hall with his trusty camcorder, in good time to nail a prime position from which to catch Xerxes and Beyoncé being simply brilliant, but he was distracted in the lobby by mince pies and mulled wine with Mrs Robinson (Sums) and was too late to find a prime seat. Parent Q in Row C regards him with pity, and readies his iPhone 4S with early-adopter superiority.
Parents A and B cannot believe that Mrs Bradshaw (Drama) has chosen that skinny bitch Fern to play the Virgin Mary rather than their talented Alaska – but of course Fern's mother inherited a few mill from her late MP father last summer, and is obviously to be cultivated.
Parents D and E are fretting that their seasonal gifts to the teachers are sub-standard. Once a pannetone from Carluccio's was sufficient, but later nothing less than a Daylesford hamper would ensure that young Barney and Squish didn't fall behind in design technology. Last year the couple dished out scented candles (oleander) from Diptyque (£20 a pop!) to the teachers, but Parents G and H trumped them with tiny coral bijoux from Links. What this year? A Thomas Sabo watch?
It's bad enough negotiating the heavy fire of eyes at the school gates when doing the 3.30pm pick-up. It's bad enough with all the extra seasonal competitiveness beyond those gates (shopping, decoration, treats) – as highlighted on these pages. But put all the parents in a single room just before Christmas, with their competitive instincts in full display and fumes of mutual loathing filling the air, factor in the shocking crush Parent L has long nursed for the wife of Parent M, wind them all up with nerves about their children's imminent performances and it's not long before nerves begin to twang.
And suddenly you're Away in a Bloody Salle-à-Manger...
Gold, finger-stumps and myrrh... The school nativity play has always been a mine field for parental tensions. Hell hath no fury like a mother whose little princess auditioned for Mary and was cast as Shepherd No 3.
However, the behaviour of two dads at a Christmas performance this year represents a new low for seasonal ill-will.
While parents waited to be seated at Harton Primary, in South Shields, a fight broke out, ending with one dad allegedly biting another's finger off.
Fellow parents watched in horror as the scene unfolded, but thankfully no children witnessed it as they were backstage, presumably struggling to attach tea towels and cardboard crowns to their heads.
A 32-year-old man was hospitalised and a 39-year-old man arrested on suspicion of assault.
The play went ahead as planned. After all, the nativity must go on.
Christmas shopping is pretty horrific at the best of times, but this year it's really turned nasty.
First there was Black Friday in America, the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally opens the Christmas shopping season. Festive feeling was in short supply as one man was shot and a Los Angeles woman pepper-sprayed fellow bargain hunters.
Then last weekend, in London, police were forced to close part of Oxford Street after fears that Christmas shoppers could create a deadly crush.
And in Australia, shopping centres have employed car park attendants for the first time this year to prevent bust-ups over that last remaining space.
Christmas is the season of good will to all men. It is also the season of proving by means of your larger, brighter and in all ways superior decorations that you are better than your neighbours.
When your neighbour is a very flashy, and very wealthy, TV presenter you have to go further than most. Undeterred, Jonathan Ross neighbour Nick Robeson erected an 8ft6ins polar bear, its cub and glowing reindeer outside his Hampstead house in 2008.
Ross is the envy of north London families for his elaborate Christmas light displays, which had caught the eye of Robeson's two young sons.
That is, until their father supersized his own decorations and won back their favour. Unfortunately they asked for even more lights the following year. The lesson: competitive dads don't need encouragment.
But then neither do ambitious youngsters, a Chicago couple has discovered. Leaving the decorations to their 19-year-old son Zach Gebis resulted in a synchronised light display using tens of thousands lights which turn off and on to music.
The show has already attracted hundreds of visitors and, suprisingly, not quite so many complaints from neighbours.
A Christmas outing always begins with good intentions. But such are the pressures of the season that all too often it can end with a mother verbally abusing an elf.
At the St Nicholas Fayre in York last weekend, things turned sour after queues grew for Santa's grotto, which could cope with only 40 children an hour.
Parents clutching vouchers for a discount train ride were enraged to find that they had been misled by a mistaken promotion on the website Groupon and that there was, in fact, no train at the fayre.
Broken-hearted children were reduced to tears as their parents hurled abuse at various members of Santa's grotto team.
One elf handed in his resignation, while a woman dressed as a Christmas tree was targeted for abuse – presumably because she stood out from the crowd.
Groupon expressed regret for the mix-up and organisers thought the fayre may have been confused with one in Hull that did have a train. Since when did Santa have a train anyway?
It's the Advent calendar that's really to blame. You can't expect a child to wait 24 days for presents they know are coming, and today's children won't be fobbed off with a tiny piece of chocolate.
In 2006, a mother in Carolina turned her son in to the police on Christmas Day – for opening his Christmas presents too early. Even more worryingly, the local cops actually charged the poor child with petty larceny.
The mother reportedly called the police after her 12-year-old son tore the wrapping paper off his Nintendo Game Boy before being allowed to by the family.
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